CCAEJ Environmental Justice Expands Fight
By Dianne Anderson
Environmental justice ambassador Evan Webb doesn’t have to think too hard about why more people that look like him aren’t involved in the fight for clean air and water, but he knows it’s not always easy.
Between working and being a full-time student, the commitment requires a strong sense of community and a long view of health impact. So many African Americans have higher rates of asthma and cancer.
Webb first got involved with the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, just hoping to learn more about advocacy. Now a few months later, he feels more participation is needed, especially in the Inland Empire where the air is thick for low-income communities of color.
His family is middle class in a nice north Fontana neighborhood, not nearly hit with as much environmental racism as other areas, but he is concerned about the south side of his city.
“I’ve been attending CCAEJ classes, learning about environmental issues in the IE, and how I can support the other communities that are impacted. Right now I’m reaching out to other people, and I got my mom to help out,” said Webb, 19, Fontana resident and sociology major at the University of LaVerne.
Both Rialto and San Bernardino have a significant Black population. Many in the community are working class, and may not have time to spare in this economy, but he said the health impact will catch up in time.
“Whether they realize it or not, the environmental issues going on in our area are impacting us as well. It may not be in our faces, but we can see it when it comes to our medical bills, or when the sky is more polluted than usual,” he said.
CCAEJ Executive Director Ana Gonzalez said they are growing their ambassadors, and have graduated 30, who are trained in what environmental justice means, and how to advocate for their community.
She sees more awareness lately with the proliferation of warehouses, which is one of their many ongoing campaigns. Compared to when she started in 2019, there is a big uptick in requests for help from Montclair to Banning and Beaumont.
The community is making the connection between warehouses, low income, low educational attainment and environmental racism, she said. Worse, with warehousing comes chemical runoff into the water.
“We have a couple of litigations going on in the Agua Mansa area again. The industries that pollute the water, they control the rain runoff, but that [it has] PFAS, a great danger to our health,” she said, adding that PFAS chemicals are found in many products from cookware to clothing to diesel, but she said they are finding more of it in the water.
Earlier this year, the White House released its report that the Biden-Harris Administration is fighting PFAS pollution to safeguard clean drinking water for all Americans.
“We are trying to educate people to stay away from using certain plastic and nonstick cookware and make healthier choices,” she said. “All PFAS stems out of Dupont, now almost every industry uses these chemicals.”
In another campaign, the organization successfully pushed a redistricting solution with a new map for Ontario approved by the city council to split the city into four districts. Currently, there are three whites and two Latinos on the council, but the new map allows for fair representation.
“The goal was to get representation that looks like the population of the city. Now there is an opportunity for an Asian council member to be elected, and for an African American community member to be elected as well,” she said.
CCAEJ is also in the process of litigation against Fontana for unlawfully abandoning one of their parks, which has been utilized by the community for over 30 years. But, she said the city decided to sell it to a developer that wants to build over 200 homes there.
The quarry is in a hot dry area and considered a high fire hazard zone, and she said any decision should go up for a ballot vote.
“This is the people’s land, and they [the city] have to put it to a vote,” she said.
Not long ago, the organization also won a settlement against the city of Ontario on a warehouse planned for over six million square feet of agricultural land. CCAEJ was able to reduce 1.6 million square feet of that project, and received a monetary settlement to preserve and purchase that agricultural land to protect it from warehouses,
The goal is for the community to become owners of the settlement land, she said. It would house a community center for activities, and has rural gardening for local schools to visit and learn about fresh produce and how farming works.
Currently, they are also collaborating with other environmental justice groups and South Coast Air Quality Management District on the ISR (Indirect Source Rule), but local policies are important, like making sure community benefits agreements are in place when approving projects that will harm the community.
One local city is ready to pass an ordinance requiring warehouses to pay into a community fund that supports code enforcement, city and parks and other maintenance. She said more developers must be held accountable for their own damage from pollution dumping so the bill doesn’t fall on taxpayers.
“If they want to be a neighbor in our community, they have to pitch in and do the right thing to bring good things to the community, rather than bad. Through conversations that we’re advocating, I think a lot of cities are starting to wake up,” she said.